Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

about 1,4001


(1801): 5,401


19 June 1790JOHN WHARTON908
 William Egerton379
2 Mar. 1799 JOHN BACON SAWREY MORRITT vice Tatton, deceased512
 John Wharton369
5 July 1802JOHN WHARTON735
 John Bacon Sawrey Morritt626
31 Oct. 1806JOHN WHARTON641
 Napier Christie Burton420
 Philip Staple279
8 Oct. 1812JOHN WHARTON804
 William Beverley591
17 June 1818JOHN WHARTON826
 Dymoke Wells279
 William Beverley238

Main Article

With a large freeman electorate open to venality and eager to encourage contests, Beverley proved unamenable to control. The only individual with a significant interest, Charles Anderson Pelham*, created Lord Yarborough, who was owner of the so-called ‘Bar’ interest reckoned at about 200 votes, got little joy of it and sold it in lots during this period.2 But while interlopers might be welcome to contest Beverley, only candidates with strong local connexions were likely to succeed, and Yorkshire country gentlemen were usually returned: the exception was Forbes in 1812. If, occasionally, a son of Beverley stood, it was to promote a contest rather than to vindicate the independence of the borough.

In 1790 Sir Christopher Sykes, 2nd Bt., of Sledmere, who had headed the poll in 1784, stood down in favour of his brother-in-law William Egerton*. Sir James Pennyman, the veteran Member with a respectable local interest and, like Sykes, who was supposed to have propped him up in 1784, a supporter of Pitt, stood again. Anderson Pelham, whose brother had been defeated in 1784 and who shared Earl Fitzwilliam’s opposition politics, was encouraged by the latter to put up a candidate. Francis Ferrand Foljambe* was approached but ‘absolutely declined’ in July 1788, and Sir Thomas Gascoigne*, who was next suggested, was objected to at Beverley on account of ‘Popery, and all that sort of nonsense’. Strickland (of Boynton) was then thought of in March 1789 and Anderson Pelham concurred, in the belief that he would not take advantage of his connexions at Beverley to boost an interest of his own, but this fell through. Soon afterwards John Wharton of Skelton was adopted as Anderson Pelham’s candidate and in May 1789 Fitzwilliam was informed that a canvass on his behalf was strongly positive. So it proved, for Wharton received 908 votes out of 1,069 cast, and though he stood ‘totally unconnected’ with the other candidates, his friends promoted the return of Pennyman in second place, securing him the outvoters,

considering that Sir James must have less importance in the House than a man of Egerton’s fortune supported by Sykes; considering too that on future occasions his efforts here will be less availing than Sykes’s and also that Pennyman was attended by some popular gentlemen in the neighbourhood ... ’Tis better to contend against a beggar than a banker.

Neither Fox nor Pitt was mentioned at the election, but to quote Sir William Milner, ‘the Tories offered to kiss the Whig’s backside for his second votes’. Wharton paid his voters a guinea-and-a-half and three guineas, according to whether they were plumpers or singles, and Egerton two guineas and ten shillings, or one guinea and five shillings.3

By 1796 Wharton’s position was undermined by Lord Yarborough’s adherence to government: the latter did not expect a smooth passage, but after a show of defiance Wharton stood down. He was replaced by Col. Burton, a Pittite married to a local heiress, who with Yarborough’s concurrence was returned with William Tatton, son of the unsuccessful candidate in 1790 and nephew of Sir Christopher Sykes, Sir James Pennyman having retired. The candidature of David Burton Fowler of Cherry Burton was announced, but not taken seriously: he was presumably to have been Wharton’s stable companion. Government too had thoughts of sponsoring ‘Lord Muncaster and Mr Denison’ for Beverley.4

On Tatton’s death in 1799, Wharton stood on the Whig interest, but was defeated by Morritt, who after a Maj. Maxwell’s name had also been mentioned, emerged as the candidate backed by Yarborough. Morritt had consulted Sir Christopher Sykes, assuring him that he intended to support government, and Sykes, who claimed that he had not interfered at Beverley for ‘some years’, encouraged him, warning him however that contested elections could be very expensive. Morritt was persuaded by the gentlemen of the town to secure Yarborough’s blessing. There were rowdy scenes at the poll, the ‘mob’ being for Wharton, but the latter failed to secure an adjournment of the poll to a second day: in fact, all the contests at Beverley in this period were settled in a day. In his address of thanks, Morritt proclaimed himself ‘unsullied by corruption and unawed by tumult’ and avowed his support of government.5

In 1802 Wharton stood again independently and headed the poll, while Col. Burton defeated Morritt for second place, ‘though art and power were united against me’, as he claimed. The Whigs hailed this as a victory for the freemen over Yarborough and as Wharton’s revenge against him. Morritt, who had led until the last three hours and this time insisted on his independence of the ministry, thought he was beaten ‘by a combination of bribery and mobbing which has entirely defeated the interest the gentlemen and Lord Yarborough gave me, which entre nous is not worth having, as I found to my cost’. He could not afford another such contest and, though a petition was announced, there was no sequel; nor was the Yarborough interest a significant factor again, and in 1806 Yarborough professed to be Wharton’s well-wisher.6

In 1806 nothing came of a rumour of Sir Mark Sykes’s* candidature and an outsider appeared in the person of Alderman John Prinsep* of London, who addressed the borough on independent principles, 23 Oct. His agent Joseph Corfield canvassed for him, but Prinsep decided to contest Colchester instead. The freemen who had welcomed him as a ‘third man’ were thwarted. Corfield departed, having by one account refused to be a substitute candidate, and the electors of Colchester were informed of the circumstance: they did not return Prinsep. Another ludicrous by-product of this manoeuvre arose out of Corfield’s having canvassed the numerous Beverley freemen resident at Hull sporting pink colours, which, being those of William Joseph Denison*, who could no longer afford Hull, led to the supposition that he had changed his mind and promoted his return there in absentia after his friends had thought he might stand a better chance at Beverley. Meanwhile a third man was found for Beverley, according to the same story, by scouring the country in all directions and picking up ‘at the head of a brigade, General Vyse, who was returned almost without knowing that he was a candidate’.

Although Gen. Vyse was already a capital burgess of Beverley and had been stationed there for more than two years, there is no evidence of premeditated candidature: one of his supporters, John Arden, informed the freemen that Vyse was stepping into the breach after an attempt had been made to trick them. Gen. Burton felt obliged to deny that he and Wharton, who could certainly ill afford the expense of a contest, were in collusion with Prinsep to cheat the freemen of their loaves and fishes; politically they were in opposite camps and the ministry were not well disposed to Burton. The mayor William Beverley took measures against ‘violence and intimidation’ at the poll and Burton was the disappointed candidate. He complained of Vyse’s ‘illiberal’ conduct in coming forward on such a flimsy basis and published criticism of Wharton’s conduct during the election, which led to a bloodless duel between them. The basis of the quarrel was Wharton’s unwillingness to promote even the appearance of a united front between himself and Burton, to avert a contest.7

Vyse, a naive politician, took his orders from the Duke of Cumberland, who proposed to enlist him for a party of ‘King’s men’. No sooner was he elected than his patience was sorely tried when ‘old Vyse’, a Beverley freeman, having died, the rumour reached London that the general was no more. Six candidates sprang up, foremost among them William Smith*, endorsed by the Grenville ministry at the instigation of his friends Lord and Lady Holland. Alderman Prinsep proceeded to Beverley to canvass, only to discover that Gen. Vyse was not dead and far from amused.8 In 1807, however, Vyse stood down in favour of his son, who professed perfect independence of party. The third man, Maj. Staple whose platform was ‘No Popery’, got nowhere, and two other contenders, Alderman Jarratt and John Wray junior, withdrew their pretensions. Staple petitioned, alleging bribery and treating, to no avail. In 1812 it was reported that he had ‘not a shilling’ to maintain his interest.9

In 1812 Gen. Vyse shuffled off, though expected to maintain his interest. His son had another seat and he was doubtless deterred by the appearance of a third man, Charles Forbes, who had no connexion with Beverley, but who promised an independent support of ministry and keen opposition to the East India Company trading monopoly. His friends testified that he was no ‘speculating adventurer’. The vacuum left by the Vyses was filled at the last minute, after hopes of securing Charles Duncombe* had been dashed, by the American-born former mayor William Beverley, for no more obvious purpose than to secure the freemen’s treats.10

In 1818 there was some doubt about Wharton’s standing: he had not paid the previous election bills and had suddenly gone abroad, in fact to nurse his ailing child. Nevertheless he returned to England and paid up. Had he not done so, and despite the fact that his interest was ‘personal’, the local Whigs believed that they would have stood a ‘very good chance’ of holding his seat at Beverley. Forbes found a seat elsewhere, though his friends canvassed for him; he recommended his kinsman Col. John Baillie, but the latter looked to Hedon instead. Gen. Burton’s son, then in the Fleet for debt and represented by his uncle Col. Christie, stepped in. He was challenged by Dymoke Wells, a third man who espoused the freedom of the borough and proclaimed Burton’s ineligibility—he had not like Wells paid £200 for the freedom of the borough, quite apart from the fact that his candidature was a debtor’s expedient. Burton nevertheless defeated Wells with ease, and Wells’s petition, alleging Burton’s disqualification and the mayor’s partiality to him, was rejected. The renewal of William Beverley’s candidature in 1818 was instigated by his friends—he did not canvass. Gen. Vyse and ‘Mr Hill’ were also approached, but declined. In short, Beverley was as open as it could be in 1818, but a liability on account of the expense of elections, with nearly 40 per cent of the freemen non-resident. Wharton proved it by spending his last 14 years an imprisoned debtor.11

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. The number of votes cast were, 1,069 in 1790, 1,296 in 1802, 964 in 1806, 1,203 in 1807, 1,289 in 1812 and 1,283 in 1818.
  • 2. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. v. 335.
  • 3. Fitzwilliam mss, boxes 39-41, Foljambe to Fitzwilliam, 7 July, Anderson Pelham to same, 31 July 1788, 31 Mar. 1789, Rev. Sykes to same, 20 June, Sinclair to same, 20 June, Sir W. Milner to same, 23 June 1790; X516/6/1, Rev. Sykes to same, Tues. [June 1790]; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F115/6; E. Riding RO, DDX/24/24, Wharton’s address, 18 June 1790; E. Riding County Lib. Beverley poll bk. 1790 (with ms notes).
  • 4. Portland mss PwF7408; Hull Advertiser, 28 May; E. Riding RO DDX/24/21, Wharton’s address, n.d.; Sykes mss DDSY/101/67, Broadley to Sykes, 19 May 1796; PRO 30/8/234, f. 267.
  • 5. Hull Advertiser, 23 Feb., 2 Mar.; E. Riding RO, Sykes mss 101/68, Morritt to Sykes, 16 Feb., draft reply 19 Feb.; Hopper to Lady Sykes, 3 Mar.; DDX/24/21, Morritt’s address, 5 Mar. 1799.
  • 6. E. Riding RO, DDX/24/21, Wharton’s address, 29 June, Burton’s address, 7 July 1802; pro-Morritt election song; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F36/6; The Picture of Parliament (1802), 161; Morning Chron. 9 July; Sheffield City Lib. Spencer Stanhope mss, Morritt to Spencer Stanhope, 17 July; The Times, 23 Nov. 1802; Fitzwilliam mss, Yarborough to Lady Fitzwilliam, 1 Nov. 1806.
  • 7. Lonsdale mss, Muncaster to Lowther, 23 Oct.; E. Riding RO, DDX/24/21, addresses of Prinsep, 23 Oct., Vyse, 29 Oct., Arden, 29 Oct., Burton, 29 Oct., W. Beverley (mayor) 29 Oct.; Hull Advertiser, 25 Oct., 1, 8 Nov., 6 Dec.; Morning Post, 13, 27 Nov., 5, 6 Dec.; York Herald, 22 Nov.; Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 14 Nov.; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. E210, Scotcherd to Fitzwilliam, 19 Oct., D. Sykes to same, 19 Oct.; Fortescue mss, Taylor to Grenville, 23 Oct., reply 25 Oct. 1806.
  • 8. Bucks RO, Howard Vyse mss D/HU/B/32/64, 65, 68, Vyse to Cumberland (draft), 1, 20 Nov., replies 4, 25 Nov.; Add. 51573, Smith to Lady Holland, [Nov.], to Holland, 7 Dec.; Grey mss, Grenville to Grey, Tues. [18 Nov. 1806].
  • 9. Hull Advertiser, 2, 9 May; E. Riding RO, DDX/24/21, Staple’s address, 7 May; DDBC/11, Vyse’s address, 8 May 1807; CJ, lxiii. 26, 181; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F42/30.
  • 10. E. Riding RO DDX/24/21 and DDBC/11/76, 77, addresses; Hull Advertiser, 3, 10 Oct.; Hull Packet, 5 Oct. 1812.
  • 11. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F36/36, 39; E. Riding RO, DDBC/78, Forbes’s address, 10 June 1818; DDX/24/21, addresses; The Late Elections (1818), 13; CJ, lxxiv. 32, 224; Hull Advertiser, 30 May, 13, 20 June 1818.